How to Build a Business Case for Your Analytics Project


How to Build a Business Case for Your Analytics Project

Every year our public leaders are faced with diminished budgets and a vocal public demanding justification for every dollar spent. In 2021, however, accountability for spending will be more closely watched than usual, as the government makes an unprecedented investment through the American Rescue Plan, including $1billion for the Technology Modernization Fund. Because analytics and other related data efforts (e.g., big data, data mining, and data science) are critical for tracking and preventing waste, fraud, and abuse, they can typically secure the necessary budgetary support, but, more often than not, getting buy in from both internal and external stakeholders (i.e. the public) requires some extra homework.

A business case for analytics can serve as the vehicle to present the research, strategy, investment and return expected as part of an analytics project. The end objective is, of course, to obtain the approval to proceed, which would likely also include the budgetary support.

Before starting writing the business case in earnest, it is important to select the “right” use case, i.e. the strongest and most compelling justification for the project that you will use as your selling point. Those could include:

  • This project can solve an issue that can’t be solved without analytics. If this isn’t the case, the argument for analytics would be weak and progress only incremental.
  • The project is low risk, high return. Simple business logic: pick a concrete issue that has a high likelihood of success and provide demonstrative and measurable value.
  • The project can solve an issue quickly. Focus on an issue that can be addressed with analytics in under 90-days to show significant progress while the topic is still fresh in leadership’s minds.

After you’ve selected a compelling use case, do your research. In all likelihood, something like the target use case has been done before by an organization similar to yours. It is important to leverage their lessons learned, understand their measures of success, their key performance indicators, their stumbling blocks, the best practices they applied, the technology and staff skills necessary, and other elements that contributed to their success or failure. This collective knowledge should be objectively analyzed and blended into the business case where appropriate.

Now you are ready to draft the business case. These documents and presentations have been done in some form or another for centuries and there are several schools of thoughts on how to organize and present the information in a way to best persuade the audience. There are several components to consider and the questions they need to address:

  • Structure: What is the most widely accepted format for this organization and the required information for this business case to be accepted?
  • Setting the Vision: What is the business value, near-term and longer-term, of this investment?
  • Examples and Facts: How can we support the expected business value with evidence and analysis?
  • Mock-ups: Can we see what the end result will look like?
  • Measures and Expected Outputs: How do we know if we were successful and met our goals?

As with any professional document, it is important for it to be well written with a pleasing layout, graphics, and logos.

Research and writing are only parts of the battle—you need to share it, defend it, and build the support necessary to ensure the vision set out in the business case come to life. This is not an activity that occurs once the draft is complete. It is important to market the plan throughout the process by identifying your target audience and, most importantly, your champion. This person(s) is the one that can help get the support needed to run the project to completion. They need to be onboarded early and their inputs reflected in the document. The other important audience group is the business area that you will be working with to demonstrate the value. Both the folks on the ground and those in management positions need to be bought in and help maximize the business value the project will provide.